Week 6. Do I Need This Equipment?

Updated 2023

In our previous discussion, we delved into the fundamental gear that’s a must for your saltwater aquarium. Now, let’s explore additional equipment that’s frequently encountered and often deemed crucial by many hobbyists. Much like last time, we’ll provide a concise rundown and offer insights to help you decide whether these items should find a place in your setup.

This Week's Video:

Category one: Filtration

Much like our previous discussion, a significant portion of saltwater equipment revolves around filtration. Whether you opt for a simple or more advanced filtration approach largely depends on your livestock goals and budget considerations.


For larger aquariums, bare-bottom setups, or those looking to explore more sophisticated equipment, a sump can be a valuable addition. While not strictly necessary, many hobbyists would argue that a sump is a cornerstone of modern saltwater aquariums. There are different sump configurations, depending on your intended use (skimmer, refugium, etc.). While you can DIY a sump, investing in a reliable and well-designed sump is a prudent choice for long-term benefits.

Protein Skimmer

A protein skimmer stands as a remarkable filtration component commonly used in advanced setups. It excels at removing waste, excess food, and other undesirable elements. By collecting waste in a cup at the top, it effectively eliminates waste from the system, unlike filter socks. A protein skimmer provides redundancy and flexibility in terms of water change frequency. If you’re planning intense feeding, bare-bottom setups, or desire added assurance, a protein skimmer is a valuable addition. Various brands, types, and sizes exist, but any reputable skimmer that matches your aquarium size will suffice.

Media Reactors

Media reactors essentially serve as large containers designed to hold various filtration media, enhancing their efficiency and overall impact. Are they essential? Not necessarily, but they offer an efficient way to bolster your filtration setup. Consider them an investment in filtration optimization. While not mandatory, their inclusion depends on your budget and willingness to introduce a layer of complexity. If you foresee challenges in maintaining water cleanliness or wish to streamline other areas, a reactor can provide an effective solution.

Live Rock and Sand

“Live” rock and sand refer to materials that have been part of established aquariums or harvested from the ocean. Incorporating these elements can lead to a resilient and well-established aquarium with diverse biodiversity. However, there’s a risk of introducing pests that you’ll need to address. While live rock and sand have become scarcer and pricier in recent years, their value remains high. The choice boils down to weighing the potential for pest issues against the challenges of starting from scratch with sterile materials.

Refugium and Algae Turf Scrubbers

A refugium is a dedicated section of your saltwater system that can serve various purposes, such as housing algae, cultivating copepods, or isolating injured corals and fish. Its utility hinges on your goals. For instance, you can grow copepods if you have finicky fish like seahorses. Alternatively, you can isolate injured inhabitants. Furthermore, you can use the refugium to grow macroalgae for filtration, helping to remove waste toxins. Algae turf scrubbers specialize in algae-based filtration, although they tend to be expensive compared to the multifunctional refugium.

Filter Socks, Filter Pads, and Sponges

These components all contribute to mechanical filtration, which clears physical particles from the water, resulting in clearer water. The specific choice of media isn’t overly critical; choose what suits your preference, considering that you’ll need to clean these elements regularly.

Category two: Situational Gear

This category delves into common equipment options, but the necessity of each piece truly hinges on your specific circumstances. If you’re uncertain about whether a particular item is essential for you, we’ll provide clarity in this section.

Stand and Leveling Mats

A stand serves as the foundation for your aquarium, offering stability and space for essential equipment. Smaller aquariums might find a suitable home on desks or dressers. Custom-made or DIY stands can be appealing for personalized aesthetics, but thorough research is crucial to prevent stand failure. While a precut mat often accompanies rimless aquariums, a separate leveling mat can be employed to safeguard against pressure points.

Auto Top Off (ATO)

We’ve discussed this previously, but an ATO automatically replenishes freshwater lost through evaporation, maintaining stability and preventing salinity increases. Although not obligatory, I recommend incorporating an ATO at some point due to the convenience and redundancy it provides. Even if you’re not away often, it ensures stability during your absence.

Calcium and Alkalinity Test Kits

Corals consume calcium and alkalinity during growth, necessitating vigilant monitoring. Especially with prolific SPS corals, active parameter observation is crucial. Having test kits available enables you to stay attuned to your aquarium’s conditions, enhancing your understanding of its dynamics.

Dosing Pumps

If water parameter depletion persists despite water changes, dosing may become essential. While manual dosing is possible, dosing pumps offer automation and consistency. Stable parameters are vital for coral health, making dosing pumps valuable tools. When considering a dosing pump, ensure compatibility with your setup through careful research and calculations.

Fans and Chiller

In hot climates or for cold water setups, temperature control becomes paramount. Fans are ideal for tropical reef setups, offering periodic cooling as needed. Chillers, on the other hand, are primarily for cold water systems and come at a higher cost. Investing in a temperature controller that activates fans when temperatures rise can further enhance stability.

Remember, your equipment choices should align with your goals and the unique conditions of your saltwater aquarium.

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